The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reached out to the American Public Works Association (APWA) to aid in updating public works resource typing documents that are part of the online Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT). The RTLT documents, as they relates to positions (as compared to equipment), help to establish the minimum qualifications for someone filling this role. A side benefit of the position descriptions is that they could help to serve as a resource for public works departments when trying to establish baseline job descriptions and requirements for their staff. One important note is that FEMA had already worked with the American Water and Wastewater Association (AWWA) on revising the public works positions relating to water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure and those positions were not in the scope of the APWA effort.
One of the first work items recommended by the group was to remove the public works equipment from the RTLT and use FEMA’s Schedule of Equipment Rates as the way to standardize how equipment is referred to. In emergencies or other disasters, when public works equipment deploys to a situation, there can be a number of different types of equipment that might accomplish the same purpose. This means it is vital the person requesting the equipment either 1) knows what is needed, or 2) is able to describe the problem they are trying to solve and what their goal is so that other public works professionals can make recommendations on what equipment should be sent to meet the need.
A great example of this could be a hydraulic excavator. Depending on the attachment put at the end of the boom, an excavator can be used for a wide range of tasks beyond digging (for example, moving trees or building debris with a grapple). When a request is made for an excavator, the request will be to complete a certain task. The size of the excavator and attachment will be based on that task. If someone requested a Type 1, Hydraulic Excavator (Medium Mass Excavation 4 cy to 1.75 cu buckets) according to the RTLT, there would likely be a variety of questions sent back to the requesting agency as to what task they are specifically trying to accomplish. The RTLT has the excavator sorted based on bucket size for the general category (of which there are three categories) with each category subdivided into four types. The FEMA cost code already breaks down the cost for the excavator by bucket size or horsepower. For a situation where a bucket was not needed, the size of the excavator and the attachments are the key bits of information.
Just like we use plain language for communication in the Incident Command System (ICS), we need to use plain language to communicate problems/goals when making requests as compared to asking for certain equipment with little consideration for whether that equipment is the best choice to accomplish the desired goal. Furthermore, since the FEMA cost schedule has cost codes already included, public works departments can pre-enter the cost code information into their equipment asset management inventories as a preparedness step. Ultimately, FEMA agreed with APWA’s recommendation and removed the public works equipment from the RTLT.
The second phase of the project looked at the position descriptions and the working group identified a number of opportunities for changes. Fundamentally, the group tried to establish position descriptions that were generic enough to cover the wide range of tasks that public works professionals do while still setting a benchmark for minimum qualifications. The final list of position descriptions (plus some others that had already been reviewed) is available here.
For each of the new position descriptions, the group reviewed the position components (Description, Education, Training, Experience, Physical/Medical Fitness, Currency, and Professional and Technical Licenses and Certifications) and updated those as well. The review team worked hard to consider the vast range in the staffing size of public works departments, as well the scope of the services they provide to their community, and how this all connected to any effort to standardize the minimum requirements of job descriptions/positions.
The group also looked across all the position descriptions to establish how they relate to each other not only from a potential supervisory standpoint, but also requirements of the various position components. This figure shows the new position descriptions and how they relate to each other in terms of the supervisory hierarchy of the person who may fill that role. As an agency makes a request for mutual aid or as a public works department looks to integrate these position descriptions into their agency’s job descriptions, this may be helpful when taking into consideration the supervisory hierarchy between position descriptions.
Agencies looking to use the Resource Typing Library Tool (RTLT) when requesting mutual aid need to be aware that these position descriptions establish the minimum qualifications. Certain situations or needs may require that the requesting agency add some other requirements to the request. For example, if the requesting agency is looking for equipment operators for a certain type of equipment, while they can use the equipment operation position description, they should also add the type of equipment that they need operated. Or, if an agency is looking for a civil engineer with experience in street construction, they may want to add the street construction experience requirement to the civil engineering position description. These position descriptions were constructed with the very intent that they are easy to modify slightly based on a specific public works need.
As noted previously, in the ideal world to help improve preparedness public works departments will integrate components of these position descriptions into the job descriptions of their staff within their agency. In a way, this is a spin on the phrase “you fight like you train.” This implementation goal was consistent throughout the project, keeping in mind that these position descriptions needed to cover small public works agencies up to large public works agencies and be inclusive of all the responsibilities that public works departments may be responsible for. In any community, public works makes normal happen, and careful consideration was put into each of the position descriptions to reflect that.